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A Paradise Built in Hell

When disaster strikes, ordinary human beings very often do extraordinary things.

By / September 14, 2009



Disasters are terrible, awful things. No one could dispute that. But what do those extraordinary events tell us about ordinary humans? One view is that disasters crack society’s fragile social norms, releasing destructive primitive instincts in the form of hysteria, panic, crimes, and other acts of ruthless self-interest.

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Another view says that disasters actually release what is best and, ultimately, most authentic about people, spawning amazing acts of compassion, generosity, courage, and self-sacrifice.
In A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit argues strongly on behalf of this latter view. And because it is overwhelming true in most cases, she says, it suggests new ways of thinking about how governments should approach disaster relief.

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